Diary

Gadfly
Mining for information

A footnote on the death of restless and energetic Fairfax hard man Ben Hills has reached Gadfly. Andrew McKay, late of Lord Moloch’s empire in New York, was once dispatched by the unlamented Melbourne Herald to Fraser Island to do a story on miners plundering the sand deposits.

Dillingham Murphyores, which was mining for rutile, ilmenite, zircon and monazite, had commandeered most of the transport to the island by sea and air, and unauthorised visitors found it difficult to get in or out.

Young Andrew flew in pretending to be a surveyor and promptly went bush, fearing encounters with real surveyors. Ultimately, he came across a weathered codger in a blue singlet and shorts who was digging a deep pit with a long-handled shovel.

McKay noticed the digger had no hands and was using the stumps of his arms. The reporter asked if he was opposed to the mining.

“You a journo?” came the grizzled response. McKay owned up to his misfortune. “Then you might know my son?” he said. “Ben Hills.”

McKay did know Ben, then working on The Age. Handless, Mr Hills proceeded to give McKay introductions to all the right people and enable his escape from the island by means of a friendly light plane taking off from the beach.

McKay never found the right moment with Ben to discuss his maimed father. But years later McKay and his wife, Ryoko, met Ben’s photographer partner, Mayu Kanamori, and she confirmed Hills snr as a redoubtable fellow who seemed quite oblivious to his handicap.

Wapping tales and true

While in the province of ancient reptiles, Gadfly has been leafing through Les Hinton’s memoir, The Bootle Boy: An Untidy Life in News.

Les was one of Moloch’s rusted-on lieutenants, a Pom who wound up in Adelaide on The News under Rohan Rivett and then moved on to London and the ghastly cocktail of Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and the hackers, grafters and grifters who inhabited the demimonde of News of the Screws and The Sun. Later he went to Dow Jones in New York, only to be shown the door because as chairman of News International he was executive mincemeat when the company’s hallowed history of hacking and bribery surfaced.

By some miracle of birth, James Murdoch escaped the same fate.

Among important facts to emerge from The Bootle Boy is that Moloch hates suede shoes, a disdain he shared with Black Jack McEwen probably because Billy McMahon was a suede shoe man. “We don’t belong in a bloody jazz band,” Moloch would exclaim.

In the 1960s the unofficial hiring mantra at News was rumoured to be “No blacks, no poofters, no suede shoes”, but that bit didn’t make it into Les’s book.

Moloch also tried to ban office beards, only to find that the subs at The Catholic Boys Daily were all sprouting facial hair. And who was the Sydney editor who Hinton claims hid under a desk whenever Moloch arrived, saying: “Run for it, the great sacker is on the way”?

There’s a touching sliver in the book about Piers Akerman, known in the organisation as The Toad. Hinton says that the only brawl he had in his adult life happened when he insulted The Toad at Costello’s, a journalists’ bar in Manhattan.

Said Toad began pounding Les’s chest. “He was a short, un-athletic man and, although the blows of Akerman’s tiny fists were slight and he meant no real harm, I helpfully fell to the floor and lay still until Freddie, the barman, threw him out onto 44th Street.”  

Any resemblance to actual persons?

Lord Gnome at Private Eye reports that Succession has started on HBO in the United States.

It’s a drama series about Logan Roy and his four children, the family that controls the biggest, fattest media and entertainment conglomerate on the planet.

What future lies ahead for this cherished bunch as their ageing father continues to grow older?

Not that this necessarily reminds you of anyone in particular. The blurb says that Logan’s “eldest son from his second marriage is currently a division president at the firm and the heir apparent”. There is a brother that used to work for the business and they have a high-profile sister into the bargain.

Jesse Armstrong, whose writing credits include Black Mirror, Veep, The Thick of It, In the Loop and Peep Show, created the new series and he insists that this is a “fictional family”.

Private Eye points out that normally Sky TV viewers get exclusive first-run rights to all HBO shows. Let’s hope that arrangement persists, for one of Sky’s people posted a trailer on the Sky Community web forums where viewers were invited to make comments. “Would you watch Succession?” came the nervous inquiry. So far, no one had responded.

Late news

Susanne Briggs buried her mother, Gloria, aged 90, last week. Susanne had been one of the media team at the Art Gallery of New South Wales but was defenestrated by the new regime in 2014.

Gloria was an environmentalist and animal rights activist and her burial took place at Kemps Creek, out past Liverpool. About 40 souls were gathered there, mostly women, and there was a moving speech by Susanne.

The coffin, as you would expect, was made of reeds, and on top lay a wreath of white roses and a copy each of The Saturday Paper and The Monthly. Nothing else.

Chris dross

One of the oft-reported furphies from the Moloch boys is that whatever Australia does about carbon emissions will make no difference to global warming. It’s a particular theory of scientific scholar L’il Kris Kenny, who carries on like a sideshow barker about this.

With the volcanic eruptions on Hawaii, he was positively ecstatic, declaring to the comatose viewers of Sky News that Australia’s total carbon emissions of about 550 million tonnes is lower than the yearly emissions from volcanoes, which he claims is about 600 million tonnes of CO2. In truth, volcano emissions average under 1 per cent of today’s global human CO2 emissions.

Kenny quotes unnamed scientists who say that if emissions from volcanoes go up or down 20 per cent in a year, it “makes no difference” to the climate. Therefore, L’il Kris says, if Australia’s total yearly carbon emissions go up or down 20 per cent it will make “precisely no difference to the planet”.

Maybe he hasn’t quite got his head around the scale of the problem.

When a tonne of CO2 is added to the atmosphere most of it remains there for a long time, for centuries. The additions are cumulative and the concentration of CO2 has gone up from 280 to 410 parts per million in a few generations – mostly in our lifetime. The world looks like overshooting the 2-degree-Celsius ceiling aimed for in the Paris agreement. If it overshoots by much, the damage to the planet will be unbearable.

Many small countries collectively account for 40 per cent of world emissions, so it makes an important difference to warming if everyone does their bit, and what the Paris agreement does is allow countries to see what progress everyone is making. If a high emitter per capita such as, say, Australia is lagging, others can apply pressure, maybe even sanctions.

China takes this seriously because it doesn’t want to lose too much of the Himalayan glaciers, which feed all its great rivers. We will know their displeasure if we take L’il Kris’s advice and don’t do a thing.

As they say on Sky News Australia, “News you can trust, opinions you can’t ignore.”

Trumpette #73

“Peace in our time,” said Neville Chamberlain, waving a piece of paper that Herr Schicklgruber had signed in September 1938. It didn’t amount to anything, but was a great hoodwinking PR stunt by Adolf.

From this distance, Gadfly suspects rather the same from the overlarded but vacuous Singapore peace agreement between the children-in-chief.

Much of the media have carried on with breathless fawning over the whole enterprise rather than getting to grips with the fact that two of the shiftiest, most unhinged “leaders” in the world are cosying up for purposes of domestic politics.

It’s probable that once back at the White House, Trump will tear up the agreement and scatter it on the floor. He does this repeatedly to paper that is supposed to be archived under the Presidential Records Act.

Washington, DC’s Politico news website reports that people at the records administration office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building have to work around the clock with yards and yards of sticky tape sticking together the Grabber’s torn documents. The legislation requires the White House to preserve all memos, letters, emails and papers that the president touches.

Politico reports that two members of staff from the records office were fired after they complained about spending too much time reassembling Trump’s confetti.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 16, 2018 as "Gadfly: Mining for information". Subscribe here.

Richard Ackland
is the publisher of Justinian. He is The Saturday Paper’s diarist-at-large and legal affairs editor.